Kelly Waller Of Harte Hanks On How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Dedicate time to your leadership team to develop a comprehensive business strategy for the next five years. Then, critically evaluate whether your infrastructure across key revenue-generating functions — such as data, revenue operations, marketing, sales, and customer service — is robust enough to support your goals. Ensure your strategy lets you distinguish your brand, offering customers a highly personalized experience whenever and however they desire, tailored to their preferences.

Digital transformation has become a crucial component for businesses striving to stay competitive and relevant in today’s rapidly evolving landscape. As technology continues to shape industries and redefine business models, companies must adapt and leverage digital tools and strategies to unlock new opportunities for growth and innovation. In this interview series, we aim to explore various aspects of digital transformation, including best practices, challenges, success stories, and expert insights. We are talking to thought leaders, industry experts, entrepreneurs, technology innovators, and executives who have firsthand experience in driving digital transformation initiatives within their organizations. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Waller.

Kelly Waller is Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Harte Hanks a global customer experience company that’s been helping brands acquire and retain customers for 100+ years. A proven global marketing leader, Kelly has deep expertise in customer experience, CRM, AI, inside/outside sales, demand generation, marketing technology and sales enablement. Her work has been published in numerous marketing trade publications including where she is a columnist. Kelly is also a frequently-requested speaker at conferences including the C-Vision CX and CMO Think Tank and AAISP (now Emblaze).

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I began my career managing internal sales and training within the Fintech, Martech, and PR/Communications sectors. I then transitioned to a series of executive global sales and marketing roles where I led teams tasked with growing and retaining business. Today, I oversee all sales and marketing functions for Harte Hanks (Nasdaq: HHS). Harte Hanks is a leading global customer experience company that partners with clients to provide them with CX strategy, data-driven analytics and actionable insights combined with seamless program execution to better understand, attract and engage their customers.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Early in my sales career, driven by competitiveness, I ambitiously set up 20 meetings across the UK in one week. I did this without considering the travel, research, and preparation needed. This led to rushed meetings, including one where I showed up in sneakers, soaked from the rain. On the last day, juggling six meetings and high stress, I mixed up my presentations and even mentioned the wrong company name to a potential client. Despite these blunders, I surprisingly won business from two clients, probably because they found my mistakes slightly amusing.

This happened 20 years ago. Today, I still have the same drive but a more mature approach that focuses on quality rather than quantity. I spend more time understanding my clients and my team, and I plan my schedule and travel carefully to ensure I’m well-prepared and calm for every meeting.

This experience taught me the importance of thorough preparation, the need to focus on one thing at a time, and the value of slowing down.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve learned a lot from great leaders and mentors throughout my career. Six years ago, I was at a crossroads, recognized for my leadership, execution, and teamwork, yet considering a job at another company after a merger. The president of my former company stepped in, mentoring me on the importance of risk-taking and stepping out of my comfort zone for career growth. He challenged me to build a new function from scratch — a start-up within our company. I accepted the challenge and moved from London, UK, to Orlando, Florida. While maintaining my global demand generation responsibilities, I founded a new mid-market team in the USA, crafting go-to-market strategies and building marketing, sales, and pre-sales from the ground up. This decision sparked an incredible journey. From our humble launch in in 2019, the mid-market team expanded to over 60 employees, managing more than 1,500 accounts and generating $40 million in revenue. I’m deeply thankful for his mentorship and the remarkable experience it brought. It taught me to continuously learn, evolve, and be bold, a mindset that has never failed me.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I strongly believe in Simon Sinek’s “start with why” principle, which has deeply influenced my thinking. However, at the beginning of my career, James Caan’s “The Real Deal” was a major source of inspiration. James Caan is one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs. Caan’s book details his rise from modest beginnings to creating multi-million-dollar businesses through innovative thinking, humility, and a focus on customer needs. Two stories from his book stand out:

First, Caan showed the power of perception early in his career. When he started his recruitment business, he registered the company in Mayfair, London, using a P.O. Box. His hope was that having an address in an upscale area of town would give the impression of high-quality service. This smart move helped build a prestigious image for his startup.

Second, Caan had a unique way to attract leading companies. He would research which employees managed a company’s largest accounts, knowing that the best talent handled the most important accounts. This approach, new at the time, allowed him to win contracts with major firms by offering access to top talent.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Generating revenue is tougher than ever; people work harder for less reward. Cold calling doesn’t cut it alone; even strong SEO and social media ads aren’t as effective at attracting quality leads. Plus, what was once a dream of using tech for automation and better visibility has become a complex mess of technology.

We’re in a unique spot at Harte Hanks because we handle everything from data and marketing to sales and customer service. This gives us a complete view of the customer journey’s challenges, which we can address through our services. To lead in demand generation now, it’s vital to link data, content, and go-to-market strategies from the very beginning, backed by a digital engine and solid sales follow-through. It also means ensuring the organization’s technology, people, and processes are in sync. Encompassing all these points, we’re launching a new “in the box” demand generation solution next month, crafted for small and medium businesses (SMBs) and lower mid-market B2B firms who are struggling the most. It promises to be a breakthrough, helping these companies stand out and grow their sales pipeline.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. Digital transformation can mean many things to many people, from your perspective, how do you define digital transformation in your industry?

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

First, let’s define digital transformation. It’s a comprehensive data strategy that encompasses the full customer journey, enhances data granularity, activates dormant data, and segments information effectively. This strategy is crucial for unlocking customer insights that allow companies to deliver highly personalized customer experiences.

There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer. The answer to who benefits from digital transformation depends entirely on the level of maturity and sophistication within your company and NOT on company size, sector, or geography. Companies that tend to be in the most pain and need transformation are the ones that have grown through hypergrowth or through a series of mergers. Typical challenges include departmental, geographical, and product silos, a lack of insight into how to optimize growth, and (of course) declining returns. The first step requires fixing the duplicate systems and addressing the stand-alone technology that doesn’t integrate with the core CRM or other departments.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Digital transformation presents a significant challenge for many companies. The primary reason? It demands continuous evolution — a perpetual race where you always play catch up. Additionally, while some companies lead the pack, others struggle to maintain pace. In our work, we primarily see SMBs, organizations experiencing rapid growth, or those navigating through the complexities of multiple mergers struggling the most. Common challenges include efficiency optimization, gaining customer insights, and combating diminishing returns.

Understanding the need for digital transformation extends beyond the present. It’s imperative to cast an eye toward the future. As a leader focused on generating revenue, you must question whether your current infrastructure will remain competitive and relevant five years from now. Consider the challenge of maintaining and growing your business in an environment where customer attention spans for ads and videos are dwindling to mere seconds — a trend that’s expected to continue. In a landscape where social advertising is surging by more than 20% annually, visibility and differentiation from competitors become increasingly challenging.

Embarking on a transformative journey requires a carefully devised, step-by-step strategy. At Harte Hanks, we utilize a People, Process, and Technology framework and encourage our clients to adopt a gradual “learn to walk before you run” approach. We establish a proof-of-concept project, then test and refine it before rolling it out. We also help companies create advocates and establish a clear communication strategy to engage employees. The most well-crafted plans can falter if they fail to inspire and engage everyone involved.


Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”?

1 . Long-term planning.
Dedicate time to your leadership team to develop a comprehensive business strategy for the next five years. Then, critically evaluate whether your infrastructure across key revenue-generating functions — such as data, revenue operations, marketing, sales, and customer service — is robust enough to support your goals. Ensure your strategy lets you distinguish your brand, offering customers a highly personalized experience whenever and however they desire, tailored to their preferences.

2 . Elevate your communication through hyper-personalization.
Begin with a robust data strategy, enabling you to tailor precision communications and capture your customers’ attention. It’s critical to comprehensively understand customer behavior throughout their journey. Is your data enriched with detailed psychographics, technographics, demographics, and intent, and is it refreshed at least monthly? Your data must be actionable. Address any contact detail gaps or other deficiencies that diminish its value. Once you’ve amassed this rich customer data, the next step is to segment it efficiently, allowing you to launch hyper-personalized campaigns.

3 . Drive efficiency and optimize your teams through technology integration.
Streamline workflows by leveraging collaborative tools, automating repetitive tasks, enabling real-time communication, and providing data-driven insights for better decision-making.

4. Adopt a model that blends technology, people, and hybrid approaches.

Assess whether your infrastructure can deliver the instantaneous and personalized interactions your customers desire. Leveraging technology, including AI, can transform your client interactions through automation and support your team.

5. Maximize your return on investment by gaining insights into your customers at every stage of their journey.
Customize your strategies for retention and growth. Generate high-quality Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) that lead to conversions in your sales pipeline.

How can our readers further follow your work?

The HarteHanks blog has a wealth of information and resources. I regularly post articles and share insights on LinkedIn as well as on

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.